Rotisserie Chicken Showdown

Okay.  I just don’t get it.  How hard can it be to make a good rotisserie chicken? I mean, you pack some powder (let’s call it rub for lack of an official, technical term) on a dead, featherless bird, skewer it and let it spin until it’s done. If the rub formula is already concocted and all you have to do is pack the bird and let it spin, you don’t have to have any culinary talent, outside of being able to read a goddamn clock. . So, I don’t get.  Why can’t I find a really great rotisserie chicken? How hard can it freaking be?

The best one I had was in the late 80s/early 90s, from Magnani poultry, when the Magnanis still owned it. (The people who own it now make the standard mediocre rotisseries chicken (RC).) I worked there for a while, delivering chicken in the mornings and helping the two veteran chickeners bone and prepare birds for restaurants and institutions. The younger guy, let’s call him Guy, was an ex-café racer who married and had kids and decided that his chosen profession was a little too risky for a stable family life. He was a kind of journeyman in training and did not have the chops that his older mentor did.  Let’s call that guy Al.

Al was a retired poultry man that could not stay retired. He was one of those guys that had to work. I had an uncle like that. These guys cannot stop. So, Al showed up at, what?, six in the morning to cut up and bone birds for a couple of hours and set up the store with Guy. I learned chicken boning from watching them, but particularly Al. He was a master.

Anyway, once the delivery chicken was cut up and boxed, Al would prepare the rotisserie chicken.  He pulled out the big box of rub and a few institutional chickens (not great quality birds, these) and he covered the carcasses with this rub. I mean just packed them.  Then he skewered them, before getting the next skewer ready.

I couldn’t tell you how long they cooked, because I had to go do my deliveries, in the big Magnani truck. I went all over the east bay and when I was done, I went to school, smelling faintly of decomposition, despite a change of clothes (shoes in particular).

The resulting product was THE BEST rotisserie chicken I have had before or since.  I think there are two reasons for that. First the rub formula: I don’t know what was in it, but it was great. Second was that the birds were PACKED from stem to stern with rub. It wasn’t sprinkled on.  It was not doused. It was packed, covering the whole body with herbyspicy goodness that blended well with the chicken flavor and the flavor of chicken fat.

Between these good-old-days and now I have had quite a few rotisserie chickens (including from the under-new-ownership-Magnani’s, as well as from places like Lucky’s and Safeway) and with one exception, I have been very disappointed and sometimes heart broken.

How can so many places screw up something so easy to make. At best, the product is mediocre. At worst, it is nearly inedible. I mean really: I don’t know who keeps buying this stuff.

What sparked this whole thing was that last week I decided to go to the Jack London Square Farmer’s Market, just to see what it’s like, and they have an RC truck there.  (As you know, I usually go to the Grand Lake Farmer’s Market. I often get the Roli Roti chicken: my current favorite RC. And their pork knuckles are arteryclogging joy.)

So I bought my normal half a bird and small order of potatoes. (Trucks like these put the potatoes under the roasting birds and let the juice drip down and saturate the spuds with fatty flavor. Thirteen effing dollars! Hell, Roli Roti is ten for the same thing and I can live with that.  It’s a good lunch.  I don’t know what justifies 13 bucks, though.  There’s no wait staff or dishes to wash. I really don’t get it.

At that point, I snapped. That’s it, I thought. I am going to have an RC showdown. I am going to try out all the rotisserie chicken I can find and blog about it until I find my all time favorite. This is how much I love my loyal readers (all 3 or 4 of you).

I am going to rate the food I eat on a scale of 1 to 10. At the top of the scale is 10.  I call this rating WOO HOO! This is great food. In the middle of the scale will be 5, which I call EH. This is not great, but not horrible. This is the kind of food I buy in a pinch, when I don’t have time to make anything and I don’t want to wait around for someone to cook up something good.  At the bottom of the scale is a rating of 1, which I call YUK! PTUEY! This is the kind of bird you find at Lucky’s and Safeway, food that I don’t understand who the hell buys. Somebody must, because they keep selling it.

Disclaimer: I know I am not being objective here. I have no intention of objectivity.  If you want that, get your own blog and see how far you get with that.

Along with the rating and the name of the vendor (truck, resto, cart, whatever), I will write a little review of what I did and did not like about what I ate. All of this will all be on its own page and I will update the blog here each time I make a new entry.

If anyone wants to make a suggestion, please email me or post a reply here and I will put it on my list.  (By the way, I already have Rustica on my list and have great hope for it.) Hopefully I will find something great to share with everyone and the world will be a better place for it.

Here’s eating with you, kid.

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2 Responses to Rotisserie Chicken Showdown

  1. Linda Breaux Bay says:

    I hear your cry in the wilderness of truly terrible chicken. Had the worst ever RC from Foodland on Kauai. Horrible, stingy, stringy, grease-feast, the meat as pliable and moist as the bones. (shudder) the best i find at local farmers markets but some are also terrible. the tuesday afternoon market on McDowell in Petaluma has a good bunch of guys who know their RC and if i come late but not too late they give me a whole chicken for the price of one half. Chow big guy!

    • Dave says:

      Thanks Linda BB. That Hawaiian chicken sound really bad. Probably the Spam was better?

      I don’t think I am committed enough to the Rotisserie Chicken Showdown to drive to Petaluma for RC. Maybe San Rafael?

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